Obesity and physical inactivity in rural America

J Rural Health. Spring 2004;20(2):151-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.2004.tb00022.x.


Context and purpose: Obesity and physical inactivity are common in the United States, but few studies examine this issue within rural populations. The present study uses nationally representative data to study obesity and physical inactivity in rural populations.

Methods: Data came from the 1998 National Health Interview Survey Sample Adult and Adult Prevention Module. Self-reported height and weight were used to calculate body mass index. Physical inactivity was defined using self-reported leisure-time physical activity. Analyses included descriptive statistics, chi 2 tests, and logistic regression.

Findings: Obesity was more common among rural (20.4%, 95% CI 19.2%-21.6%) than urban adults (17.8%, 95% CI 17.2%-18.4%). Rural residents of every racial/ethnic group were at higher risk of obesity than urban whites, other factors held equal. Other predictors of obesity included being male, age 25-74, lacking a high school diploma, having physical limitations, fair to poor health, and a history of smoking. Proportionately more rural adults were physically inactive than their urban peers (62.8% versus 59.3%). Among rural residents, minorities were not significantly more likely to be inactive than whites. Males and younger adults were less likely to be inactive. Rural adults who were from the Midwest and South, had less than a high school education, had fair to poor health, and currently smoked were more likely to be inactive compared to their respective referent group.

Conclusions: The high prevalence of obesity and inactive lifestyles among rural populations call for research into effective rural interventions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Prevalence
  • Rural Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Health / statistics & numerical data